The International Copper Study Group (ICSG) expects copper mine capacity to grow at an average rate of 2.2% a year up to 2021.
The ICSG notes in its biannual ‘Directory of Copper Mines and Plants’ that the average is derived from the lower growth of about 0.5% seen in 2018/19 as compared to growth of 4% expected in 2020/21 when more projects and expansions come on stream.
Concentrates represent around 85% of the total growth in world mine copper capacity until 2021.
The ICSG anticipates 31% of world copper mine capacity growth to 2021 to come from ramp-up and expansions of existing operating mines, 56% from mines that are currently under development and 13% from projects that are currently under feasibility study.
The organisation expects 90% of world copper capacity growth to occur in 2020 and 2021.
“Continued delays in project development are shifting new capacity forward, mainly as a result of [the] length in project permitting, opposition from local communities and budget constraints.”
The ICSG further says there is increased interest in seabed copper exploration with projects being evaluated, the first of which is expected to start producing copper before the end of the decade.
The continued increase in copper capacity development is linked to Chinese overseas investments, mainly in Africa and South America.
Meanwhile, up to 2021, yearly copper smelter capacity is expected to grow at an average rate of around 3.5% a year.
China is continuing to expand its copper smelting capacity but at a slower pace than before. Chinese capacity more than quintupled between 2000 and 2017 and is expected to increase by a further 3% by 2021, accounting for 68% of expected world smelting capacity growth over the period from 2018 to 2021.
Outside of China and through 2021, new copper smelters are planned in Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Indonesia and Mongolia, as are expansions in India, Iran and Poland.
In Chile, operating smelters have undergone modernisation in order to comply with the new emissions standards that became effective in December 2018.
The ICSG says yearly copper refinery capacity should grow at an average rate of around 3% a year up to 2021.
The agency reports that growth in electrolytic refinery capacity, generally tied to the growth of smelter capacity, is projected to average 3.2% a year.
Growth in electrowinning capacity is projected at 1.7% a year.
About 90% of the growth in global refined capacity through 2021 is expected to come from electrolytic refineries.
China (in the form of electrolytic capacity) will be, by far, the biggest contributor to global growth in refined capacity, followed by India and the DRC (in the form of electrowinning capacity).
Electrowinning capacity is expected to decline by 10% in Chile through 2021.